Structural transformation: Lessons learned in the last 10 years

Posted by Dr Robin Woolley
Monday, 13 February 2017  |  Comments
Dr Robin Woolley is a consultant at Transcend Corporate Advisors.
Read all of Dr Robin Woolley's Posts

I offer this review of our countries transform efforts, fully cognisant that, in the words of the late Leonard Cohen “ there are cracks everywhere, that’s how the light gets in”. This constructive critique is offered in the spirit to be improving our efforts, and I ask readers to have this view front of mind.

Over the two cycles of legislative review of BEE (2007 and 2013), we see two different paradigms of development emerging. In the earlier cycle we see a light touch view, providing a wide range of support options, including those quite open to abuse. Without going into too many details on the “why’s” of this approach, I think most practitioners would agree that the sustainable, meaningful implementation of transformation was overshadowed by too much tactical compliance. On the other hand, the second cycle is far more prescriptive in the nature, size and approach to the beneficiaries. It pushes practitioners into deeper, pre-defined structures, which I will define as structural empowerment. I argue that as needed as this pressure is, it is insufficient on its own, if not married with the correct psychological empowerment mechanisms.

The likely empowerment that results from only structural interventions, are based on the principles of virtuous vs vicious re-enforcement cycles as detailed below:


Our studies showed that inadvertently structural empowerment incentives such as development programs (say for example business coaching), when not supported by the right psychological instruments and messaging could inadvertently disempower people as it can carry with it a message of dependency / inadequacy. This then weakens the persons sense of ability to perform the function, which is sometimes met with a response of increased structural intervention and so the psychological dependency increases and so on as depicted in the diagram above.

Sustainable transformation needs to give attention to psychological empowerment interventions such as appreciative enquiry methods that leverage off the unique talents each participant brings to the table. This creates a positive psychological compact of realistic self-worth, and insight into what structural resources will reduce the “blind-spots” in the participants toolkit, while strengthening their sense of self-worth.

It is my distinct impression that many transformation programs (particularly in South Africa with its high social distance), in their rush to empower can inadvertently disempower. The unit of empowerment is one, and it starts with people seeing the worth in each-other.

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